[PHOTO -President Barack Obama (right) is greeted by former president Bill Clinton during a campaign at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia. AFP PHOTO]

With the tight White House race headed for what could be a photo finish on Tuesday, analysts warn that the United States could once again be forced to wait weeks to find out who is going to be president.

“This could be another election that’s decided by judges,” warned Paul Sracic, chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University in Ohio.

President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney need to capture at least 270 electoral votes in order to win the White House.

While recent polls show Obama has the advantage in most battleground states, his lead is narrow and polls don’t always get it right. If a victory for either candidate ends up hinging on a single state it will likely be Ohio.

The Supreme Court ended up deciding the results of the 2000 election when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won the electoral college with such a narrow margin in Florida that it sparked a recount and massive legal battle over the infamous ‘hanging chads.’

Four years later, Bush won a second term after less than 119,000 votes in Ohio gave him a narrow electoral college advantage.

The problem this year is that there could easily be that many provisional ballots cast in Ohio, where state law prohibits officials from starting to count them until 10 days after the election.

About 200,000 of the more than 1.3 million absentee ballots mailed have not yet been returned, the Ohio secretary of state’s office said on Saturday.

“If it’s too close to call in Ohio on election night that’s a good indication it’s going to be a few weeks at least,” said Rick Hasen, an electoral law expert at University of California, Irvine and author of “The Voting Wars.”

“It’s going to be fought ballot by ballot if it goes into overtime.”

In an effort to avoid the mess of 2004—when thousands of voters waited hours in the cold to cast their ballots—Ohio election officials sent absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state.

The aim was to cut down on lines and make it as easy as possible for people to vote: they can pop the early ballot in the mail, drop it in a box at a polling station or just walk into a polling station and request an early ballot.

But if someone applies for an absentee ballot and then decides to vote on election day—and experts think plenty of people will—then they will be required to cast provisional ballots that are sealed in an envelope until it can be proven they haven’t already voted.

Provisional ballots are also cast if a voter forgot to register a change of address, doesn’t appear on the rolls, can’t provide proper identification, was flagged because registered mail failed to be delivered to the address on file, or is challenged by an electoral observer.

Further complicating the count are the mail-in ballots, which can arrive as late as November 16 so long as they are post-marked by Monday.

And of course if the results are within 0.5 percentage points, an automatic recount of all ballots is triggered.

The campaigns have already assembled an army of lawyers prepared to fight it out if any of those scenarios play out. But they won’t even be able to look at the notes written on the envelopes holding the provisional ballots until November 17.

“The good thing is, if all goes as hoped, Ohio has some pretty good laws and regulations in place on actual election day practices,” said Nick Worner, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ohio branch.

“The partisan voter observers who are putting up signs and stuff in polling stations in other states, in Ohio they’re not allowed to go inside—they’re not allowed within 100 feet.”

The state has also implemented strict standards to ensure that its 88 county election boards use reliable voting machines and report their initial count in a timely, electronic manner.

But since they don’t have to tally the number of provisional ballots cast in their precincts until their final report election night could end up being a really long one.

“Historically it’s going to be pretty late at night, early into the morning before you’re going to see those final reports,” Maggie Ostrowski, communications director for Ohio’s secretary of state, told Agence France-Presse.

“It’s going to depend on how close the race is whether we’re all biting our nails.”

Obama, Romney remain neck and neck Published on 05 November 2012 Hits: 41 Written by AFP

BRISTOW, Virginia: President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney will fight crushing fatigue on Sunday as they criss-cross America on the penultimate day of their tense White House campaign as a new poll showed them running neck-and-neck.

Obama and Romney are both showing signs of exhaustion as they dart from swing state to swing state, trying to fire up enthusiasm among supporters and win over any last wavering voters before Tuesday’s election.

His voice husky from endless rallies, Obama will fly to New Hampshire to reprise a late-night buddy act with Bill Clinton on Saturday, which saw the former president place his popular economic legacy on the younger man’s shoulders.

On a grueling swing that will end in Wisconsin in the early hours of Tuesday, Obama will also travel to Florida, Colorado and Ohio on Sunday.

Romney, clearly also feeling the pace of the frenzied endgame of a bitter White House race, will be in Iowa, Ohio and Virginia.

The Republican nominee will also make a run into Pennsylvania, long seen as a safe Obama state, but which Republicans think is now in play.

Obama seemed late Saturday to come to a wistful public realization that after spending hundreds of millions of dollars, heading interminable rallies and traveling for months, his fate was no longer in his own hands.

“I’m just a prop of the campaign,” Obama told a crowd of 24,000 people on a chilly night in an outdoor concert venue in Bristow, Virginia.

“The power is not with us anymore, the planning, everything we do, it doesn’t matter.”

“It’s all up to you, it’s up to the volunteers . . . you have got the power. That’s how democracy is supposed to be.”

Clinton told the crowd that Obama had done his best with “a bad hand” and deserved to be re-elected, as, in his folksy southern way, he went about dismantling Romney’s record and his ability to serve as president.

“I have given my voice in the service of my president,” a hoarse Clinton said on the latest of more than two dozen campaign events for Obama, before 24,000 people on a chill night in the battleground state of Virginia.

Clinton, a valuable character witness for Obama, will headline four rallies for Obama on Monday in Pennsylvania, to counter Romney’s late push into the state.

Obama’s team says Romney’s raid is a sign of desperation and an acknowledgement that he can no longer put together the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election in the classic swing states.

They insist that they are in no danger of losing the state.

With two days to go in a race that has turned on Obama’s economic record and Romney’s past as a venture capitalist and the question of whether he is ready to lead, the candidates are closely matched.

They are effectively tied in national polls of the popular vote but Obama appears to be in a stronger position in the battleground states, and if the polls are accurate seems to be in position to win re-election.

In the latest show of good news for the president, he led Romney by five points in Iowa in a poll by the respected Des Moines Register newspaper, and also appears well placed in Nevada and Ohio — in the trio of “firewall” states that could hand him re-election.

But the latest ABC News/Washington Post survey showed that the race for the White House was tied, with both Obama and Romney receiving 48-percent support among likely votes.

On Saturday, the rivals chased one another though the territory that will decide whether Obama will win a second term or whether Romney will recapture the White House for Republicans.

Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan trumpeted a “put country first” message to voters as he campaigned in New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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